Breast Biopsy

Your doctor may request a biopsy if abnormalities are detected during a clinical breast exam or on a mammogram. A biopsy is removal of tissue from the breast to confirm if cancer or other benign conditions are present. Cells are removed from a suspicious area of the breast and examined by a pathologist in a lab to for analysis.

Types of Biopsy Methods

If your physician suspects you may have breast cancer or another breast condition, he or she may refer you to a breast surgeon for a biopsy. The surgeon will remove fluid or tissue from your breast in one of several ways, depending on the size and location of the suspicious area and your medical history.

There are several kinds of breast biopsies, classified by the technique and needle used to collect the tissue sample, including:

  • Fine-needle aspiration biopsy: A doctor uses a thin needle to remove cells or a small amount of fluid from a breast lump. 
  • Core-needle biopsy: A doctor uses a wide needle to remove a sample of breast tissue, if changes are felt by a doctor or seen on an imaging test.
  • Skin biopsy: If skin changes are present on your breast, a doctor may take a small sample of skin to determine if inflammatory breast cancer cells are in the skin. 
  • Surgical biopsy: A surgeon removes all (excisional) or part of tissue (incisional) of a lump for testing, as well as the surrounding margin of normal tissue. 

What to Expect

Since biopsy procedures vary, it’s important to ask your doctor which type of biopsy you will have and what you can expect during and after the procedure.

A fine-needle aspiration biopsy is an outpatient procedure, typically done in a doctor’s office with or without numbing medicine, while a core-needle aspiration biopsy, also performed in a doctor’s office, generally requires a local anesthetic due to the size of the needle. A surgical biopsy is most often done in the outpatient surgical facility, either with local anesthesia or general anesthesia. 

It typically will take at least a few days for you to find out the results. The pathologist will send a detailed report to your doctor with your biopsy results. Your doctor can answer any questions you may have about the report that are critical to understanding your diagnosis and next steps.